CBS News, stung by Renata Adler's recent two-part series in The New Yorker attacking the network's treatment of former Army general William C. Westmoreland, is moving to take the offensive.
In a response drafted over the weekend for CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter, the network asks New Yorker Editor in Chief William Shawn to conduct an internal review of "numerous misrepresentations and distortions" in the Adler pieces. A CBS spokesman said the letter would be delivered this week.
"If you find significant errors, we trust you will find a judicious and adequate means of correcting the record," the letter says.
The articles, which appeared in the magazine last month, are part of a book called "Reckless Disregard," to be published by Knopf in October. They generally plead the case for Westmoreland, who backed out of his suit against CBS days before it was to go to the jury. They also take the part of former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, who lost his libel case against Time magazine in the same lower Manhattan courthouse.
Adler, who spent little time in the courtrooms and wrote primarily from documents, accuses CBS witnesses of perjury and argues that the 1982 CBS broadcast that provoked Westmoreland to sue was indeed "implausible," "factually false and intellectually trivial."
Sauter's 5 1/2-page letter, accompanied by a 49-page list of items CBS believes are untrue or wrong, also says, "It is ironic and sad that in this article about fairness and ethics in journalism, Adler committed the very journalistic sins of which she accused CBS."
Shawn sent word that he would not comment until he had seen the Sauter documents. Adler also said she would not respond to Sauter's letter and the 49 pages of "examples of distortions and misrepresentations" until she had read the CBS complaints.
At issue in the trial -- and in Adler's articles -- was a 1982 CBS documentary called "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," which accused Westmoreland of imposing a ceiling on enemy troop estimates in intelligence reports sent back to Washington. A crucial question in the trial became whether certain troops could be considered soldiers or civilians -- a disagreement that some believe contributed to the U.S. failure in Vietnam.
The articles, which argue that the press refuses to admit its own flaws and that large combative law firms are employed to defend that position, have drawn criticism in New York. The Village Voice has already taken note of a legal battle three years ago between Adler and the law firm that represented both CBS and Time in these cases.
The firm -- Cravath Swaine & Moore -- sued Adler in 1983 on behalf of a widow of one of the firm's partners. The woman wanted Adler to move from a New York apartment, and Adler countersued, asking for $500,000 for emotional distress.
Lawyers at Cravath Swaine said the encounter was as bitter as most battles over coveted New York apartments, but was finally settled out of court when Adler said she would move at a later time.
Why didn't Adler mention her encounters with Cravath Swaine in the 103 pages of her New Yorker pieces? "It was crazy," she said yesterday. "It was never even a real case. I lived on in the apartment happily and contentedly after it was over." Aspirin Encomiums
It would be nice to say that the latest Bayer aspirin ads give New York Times reporter Philip M. Boffey a headache. But no, they are merely "disconcerting," said Boffey, who writes on many health issues from The Times' Washington bureau.
Bayer has been running an ad about the use of aspirin to help heart attack victims and reprinted an Oct. 11, 1985, story from Boffey with the headline "Aspirin Called Aid Against 2nd Heart Attack." Boffey said he sees nothing wrong with the ad; the Times approved it, and Bayer printed the whole story. "There's no question about being misleading," he said. "They have quoted the whole damn article."
What may cause the disquiet is the fact that so many people have mentioned it to Boffey, who was one of the team of reporters that produced articles on the "Star Wars" defense system that won a Pulitzer this year.
"I've had far less comment on that than on this aspirin ad," he said, laughing. A Modest Correction
No journalist is perfect, and all good journalists have to acknowledge their imperfections now and then. But the retraction on the front page of last week's London Sunday Times falls in the category of "read 'up' for 'down,' " as the British say.
The item in total:
"Today's magazine profile of Control Risks (on page 27) which forms part of James Adams' article on kidnapping, contains statements which are untrue. Contrary to what is stated, at no time has CR paid, or been an agent for paying, 2 million to the IRA, nor any sum to any terrorist organization; nor was CR involved in, or aware of, the alleged attempt to smuggle 300,000 into Ireland.
"CR is not 'persona non grata' with the Home Office and the police. The statement that CR's activities often bring it into direct conflict with local police is also untrue. We accept that CR always cooperates with the police and enjoys their confidence around the world.
"We are glad to make it clear that any action contemplated by the Home Secretary concerning kidnap and ransom insurance is unrelated to CR's activities. The Midland Bank has never been a shareholder in the CR group.
"The account of the Italian kidnap omitted to state that the family lawyer was in contact with senior Italian police and had been given an assurance by the judicial authorities that they would not intervene if a ransom had to be paid. Moreover, we did not intend the reference to the 'apparently cosy relationship' between negotiators to imply any failure by CR to respect law and order.
"We unreservedly apologise to CR for the above errors, and have agreed to pay a substantial sum in damages to charities of its choice."
Otherwise, of course, the story was fine. Waterville's Surprise
Residents of Waterville, Maine, thought the model posing in all-leather gear was a little strange. "They all thought it was a fashion layout, although they thought it was pretty sleazy fashion," said Mayor Thomas Nale. "They couldn't believe it when they saw it on the Parade cover."
The problem was that Nale's home town was not being featured for some wholesome recreation. The cover story of the issue distributed with newspapers last weekend was titled "Kids for Sale," and claimed teen-age girls in Waterville "occasionally hustle outside the bars on Temple and Water streets."
Mayor Nale and Police Chief David Veneziano told UPI the story was wrong. "We would know if we had a prostitution problem, and to my knowledge we don't," Veneziano said.
Parade Managing Editor Larry Smith said the magazine would stand by the story, but admitted that a cover photo showed a model, not a real prostitute. He said a line explaining that the photo was a dramatization had been dropped by mistake.